Giant pandas Tuan Tuan (團團) and Yuan Yuan (圓圓) may begin their new lives at the Taipei City Zoo as early as October, after the Council of Agriculture (COA) yesterday ruled that the zoo was equipped to care for them.
The decision came after the Forestry Bureau Panda Case Review Committee inspected two contending zoos yesterday morning — the Taipei Zoo as well as the Leofoo Wild Animal Park in Hsinchu County — to determine whether their facilities and personnel would be able to accommodate the animals.
“The committee, which consisted of seven experts in the fields of veterinary medicine, educational displays, wildlife conservation and animal care, inspected the zoos based on three major concerns — animal pens, medical care and educational and research plans — and decided that the Taipei City Zoo had passed qualifications in all three areas,” Forestry Bureau Deputy Director-General Lee Tao-sheng (李桃生) told a press conference.
The Leofoo facility failed because of unsatisfactory medical care capabilities and educational and research plans, he said.
The two pandas, whose names together mean “to reunite,” have stirred controversy because of the political implications they have carried since 2005, when they were offered to former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman Lien Chan (連戰) during his landmark visit to Beijing.
Beijing repeatedly accused the former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government of rejecting the animals for political reasons.
On Wednesday, animal rights groups, including the Environment and Animal Society of Taiwan (EAST), the Taiwan Academy of Ecology and the Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association, lambasted the [current] government for its “closed door decision” to import the pandas, saying that it employed political manipulation in the matter.
Pandas are listed as an appendix I animal in CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) — an agreement between governments to ensure that the trading of wild animals and plants do not hurt their prospects for survival.
Animals and plants listed in Appendix I are those under the threat of extinction, and are prohibited from being traded commercially.
After the committee’s announcement yesterday, the Taipei Zoo would be allowed to apply for the pandas, Lee said.
Asked by the media whether on the CITES documents China would be listed as the “export country,” instead of the trade being treated as “within the country,” Lee said the documents would be filed according to the Wildlife Protection Act (野生動物保育法) Article 26, section 2, without elaborating what the article entailed.
“The committee’s job today was to review whether the zoos were fit to host the pandas. We did not discuss the [export] matter,” he said.
However, the article states that the animals would be traded by “filing applications to the export countries.”
Lee also did not say why animal right activists were not included in the committee, but he said the makeup of the committee was in accordance with the law.
Regulations state that the zoo can now begin its application process to import Tuan-tuan and Yuan-yuan, with 30 days of quarantine for both before and after their transportation. Taiwanese may see them in Taipei as early as October, many Chinese-language media said.
Taipei City Government spokesman Yang Hsiao-tung (羊曉東) yesterday expressed the city government’s joy over the choice of the Taipei Zoo as the pandas’ new home.
“We are thrilled to hear the news. Taipei Zoo has been ready to house Tuan-tuan and Yuan-yuan, and we believe the two pandas will be well cared for in the zoo,” Yang said at Taipei City Hall.
The city government has been hoping to receive the pandas since President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was mayor.
The zoo has spent NT$300 million (US$9.9 million) to build a three-story panda exhibition hall, and sent 17 zookeepers to the panda-breeding base in Sichuan, China, the San Diego Zoo in California and Ueno Zoo in Tokyo to learn how to raise and breed giant pandas.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY MO YAN-CHIH
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